For me, it's totally fascinating to uncover these pieces, and more often than not, I learn the use and find myself saying, "ah, that makes sense!" And then I want one!
Some of my favorites...
|Hooded asparagus server, La Scala by Gorham|
I have actually acquired two of these guys. I have this special place in my heart for the now-neglected asparagus servers. There's something super frivolous (only for asparagus? How often does one actually eat asparagus?) but also super functional about them. Just you try lifting asparagus with a regular spatula. They will roll right off onto your floor. I suppose you could use tongs, but whatever. Of course, they make special asparagus tongs as well...
|Saratoga/cracker spoon, Chrysanthemum by Gorham|
The Saratoga spoon is interesting. It it used for chips, crackers, etc. The name comes from Saratoga, the city, where some early chip-maker served up chips and the name was given to this shape of spoon. They are fantastic for big serving bowls of chips or popcorn, where you don't want someone sticking their grubby fingers... or just to be extra classy :)
I have an excellent Grand Baroque Saratoga spoon, but it is solid. I find the Chrysanthemum spoon above, with its cut-work, especially lovely.
|Over cup tea strainer, Kirk Stieff Silver|
How much prettier is this than a metal mesh strainer!? I want one, but alas I haven't found one for my collection yet.
|Crumb knife, Hizen by Gorham|
Through the years, bread and butter plates have not always been on the table. For much of history, a diner simply set their bread on the tablecloth (not slathered in butter). When necessary, crumbs could be brushed away using one of these lovely crumb knives, or simply with a hand (but where's the fun in that?). Also for this purpose, the "silent butler" came about. Those usually look like little boxes with a handle and hinged top. Often silent butlers have a matching brush to whisk crumbs into the box.
Fun fact about eating bread at the table: etiquette says that one never bites the bread. To be proper, break off a small piece, butter it (or not) and eat it. Repeat. This was done because in medieval times, leftover bread was given to the poor.
|Orange/Grapefruit spoon, Grand Baroque by Wallace|
Now these just make sense. Grapefruits are very hard to section with a regular tea spoon.
|Cake breaker, Grand Baroque by Wallace|
The cake breaker. Just like the name implies, it was used to cut slices of delicate cakes, like angel food, where a regular knife would squish the frothy dough. Or, in case you get locked in your pantry, a hair brush.
|Mote spoon, Georgian silver (possibly George Smith)|
via Silver Perfect
An 18th century piece, the mote spoon is along the lines of a tea strainer, but not quite. The perforated bowl could be used not only to skim leaves from your cup, but also to transfer leaves to the pot, shaking out the too-small bits first. The pointed tail is handy to unclog loose leaves from the spout of the pot. I'm especially drawn to the mote spoon because it has such an interesting shape, and sadly, though they are particularly handy to loose tea drinkers, in the modern day of tea bags they have no purpose and so are no longer made.
There are countless other pieces that I have not mentioned. Hundreds, I'm sure. Above is just a sampling of pieces I find especially interesting and frivolous, and at the same time still very useful. Does anyone else have a favorite obscure or obsolete piece of tableware? Perhaps a ramekin or terrapin fork? A jelly spoon? A rooster-shaped egg topper? Do share!